by Judson Mead
Hector Chaidez Ruacho graduated cum laude from the University of Nevada–Las Vegas with degrees in psychology and criminal justice. The youngest of three children—his brother is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at the University of Texas and his sister is an account manager with ATT—he’d come with his family from Mexico to the U.S. to settle in Las Vegas when he was six.
His plan after finishing undergraduate study was to go on for a PhD in clinical psychology. But a trusted academic mentor encouraged him to get experience first, so he took a job in a residential facility for children.
As he watched clinicians—psychologists and social workers—work with the children, he wondered which kind of clinical service was more effective. He asked children, “Who helps you more, the social workers or the psychologists?” Social work came out on top.
And that changed Hector’s plans. He researched the 30 top-ranked university social work programs. UBs School of Social Work’s trauma-informed, human rights focus appealed to both his interests and his life experience.
Hector has experienced the trauma of dislocation. “I was a regular kid living the only life I knew, going to school, and then I moved to the U.S. where I didn’t know anything, no language—I was scared to try to speak English; I was afraid to open my mouth,” he says today. “That struggle led me to do the work I’m doing now.”
Looking back, Hector, who is now outgoing and voluble in both English and Spanish, says he actually had it relatively easy. His parents were not refugees when they emigrated, the move was planned, and they came to the U.S. fully documented.
“Undocumented immigrants have it so much harder than I did, 100 times harder,” he says. That sympathy drives his desire to help. He’s keenly aware of the need for more Hispanic clinicians.
Hector worked with non-Hispanic refugees, mostly Burmese, during his first-year placement with Catholic Charities in Buffalo, visiting families to help them navigate the social services and health systems.
Being an immigrant from Mexico in what is now his own country made Hector particularly sensitive to slurs aimed at immigrants early in the 2016 presidential campaign. As he listened to campaign rhetoric, he liked what he was hearing about human rights from Bernie Sanders, so he volunteered in the Sanders’ campaign. “I wanted to use my voice to address how immigrants were being portrayed.”
He caucused for Sanders in the 2016 Nevada primary and was chosen as a county delegate to the state Democratic nominating convention.
That experience made Hector a natural candidate to attend an intense, three-day summer political boot camp organized by the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP). The School of Social Work sends three students per summer to the workshop.
Hector says he was hesitant to apply to attend the CRISP boot camp because he didn’t see himself ever being a politician. But he does want his voice heard, and that urge prevailed over his doubts.
As it turned out, everything about the experience was inspirational—and immediately useful. Hector volunteered again with the Sanders campaign in the 2020 presidential race, going door to door in Las Vegas during vacations from UB, and becoming a College Students for Bernie campus organizer.
The boot camp also widened Hector’s vision of possible professional paths. He had expected to pursue further study in clinical social work—he’d applied for fellowships at the Yale Child Study Center and at Boston Children’s Hospital. However, after the political boot camp, he added an application for a fellowship with the Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C., where the work, concerning community health issues, would be entirely on the macro side.
He says now that he’d eventually like to study for a PhD and do research that could help inform policymaking. But, for Hector, that wouldn’t necessarily foreclose helping people one at a time.
“I’d like to do clinical work as well as macro work. As an immigrant from Mexico who speaks Spanish, I know I could be useful.”